Just when you thought so many trade groups were re-locating to Virginia, here comes ELFA—the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association—to DC. After 30 years of flying under the radar in Arlington and Crystal City, ELFA named four-term former Congressman Ken Bentsen (D-Tx) as its President last year and loaded a moving van bound for the capital. It’s all part of the association’s decision to raise its profile in “official Washington,” says Ken, who opened ELFA’s K Street doors on July 4th.
Nephew of the late Senator (and Clinton Treasury Secretary) Lloyd Bentsen, Ken is part of that other political dynasty with Texas ties. As a member of the House, Ken represented Texas’s 25th District.
When Ken got a call to gauge his interest in the ELFA job (from Leslie Hortum at Spencer Stuart), he told her: “If you’re looking for a trade association professional, you shouldn’t consider me.” But if ELFA wanted a public face with ideas on establishing a bigger presence, Ken had something to offer. That sounded good to the 750-member EFLA, which historically focused on professional development but wanted to create more visibility in the capital.
ELFA staffer Lesley Sterling’s husband Craig shot the photos lining a wall opposite the conference room. (Not a bad sale for Craig, who shops his wares at the Torpedo Factory.) A group of students from the Corcoran toured the sharply designed space after it was finished.
Ken came to ELFA in April of last year, and he was looking at D.C. properties within three months. After checking out 20 locations, he penned a lease at 1825 K Street and hooked up with architects from Mancini Duffy to redesign the space, which formerly had been a television studio for, of all things, Al Jezeera TV. Besides the symbolic significance of the move (and shorter cab rides to the capital), Ken says it puts EFLA within a five-block radius of nearly all of its peer associations in the financial sector. ELFA is currently working with the American Bankers Association and the Financial Services Roundtable to defeat legislation that Ken says would retroactively change tax rules on certain cross-border transactions.
EFLA is also growing its own “Lease PAC” and working more closely with the government affairs divisions of some of its member companies, such as GE, John Deere, and Bank of America. As ELFA gets more involved in policy, Ken is looking to expand ELFA’s issue brief to include health care, among other topics. Not surprising, perhaps, given that Ken is Chairman of the Board of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world’s leading network of activists fighting breast cancer.
Ken didn’t just move the association, he changed its name. It used to be the Equipment Leasing Association, but adding the “Finance” made it more accurate. “Our industry is really commercial finance” Ken says. “Leasing is one particularly important product.”
Because the old TV studio set had to be stripped away entirely, ELFA got to design every detail of their new space. They went with a more traditional office structure—you know, with real offices—as opposed to the cubicle “bullpen” format they had in Arlington. Ken says ELFA now has less square footage, but makes up for it with a more efficient floor plan. Also, ELFA isn’t paying a whole lot more than it was in Virginia. Ken says that while economics and space considerations may force larger associations out to the Commonwealth, for ELFA—which uses only half a floor in its building—the cost of being in the capital is a small one, especially compared to the benefit of being more at the center of things as Ken plans.